One of the most oft-quoted problems received by the Advocacy and Legal Advice center at Transparency International Pakistan is that of the deplorable state of the health sector. The problems usually fall under a wide spectrum of specific issues: doctors’ absenteeism, lack of availability of beds, substandard treatment facilities, lack of rapport between doctors and patients and lack of cleanliness. Since many years, various reports have consistently highlighted the poor state of government-run hospitals. For instance, according to a recent study titled “Ranking Web of World Hospitals” an initiative of Cybermetrics Lab, research groups of the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cienti cas (CSIC), only four government-run hospitals are among the top 20 in Pakistan. The best among these four ranks 5,911 in the world.
While infrastructure is a challenge in many government hospitals, more serious problem that patients visiting government hospitals face is that of doctors’ absenteeism and inadequate staff. Though legally, doctors in public hospitals are bound not to work in private clinics, but lack of transparency and proper enforcement of rules and regulations have allowed many doctors to continue their practices in private clinics during the time when they are supposed to be present at the public hospitals. One such case that we have come across was during the Mobile ALAC organized in Osta Muhammad, a sub division of Jaffarabad, Balochistan.
The aim of the Mobile ALAC is to provide a service that will be so unique to the citizen that it cannot do anything but yield favourable results for the aggrieved. Thus, at the outset, this activity intends to disseminate information and/or legal advice to different groups of people in different localities. This has been advantageous in gathering information or issues that are faced by citizens in regions where basic services are not even available.
During the camp in Osta Muhammad, arranged in January 2017, the ALAC received a number of complaints about the poor condition of civil hospital in Osta Muhammad. People informed TI Pakistan that the hospital not only lacks even the basic equipment such as ultrasound machine, X-Ray machine, availability of beds and medicines, but also the doctors were running their own private clinics. The hospital doesn’t even have a single ambulance available for the population of more than a hundred thousand people living in that area.
Based on these complaints, TI Pakistan took up the matter with the concerned authorities by writing a letter. In response to our letter, the concerned authorities came into action and formed a committee to take prompt actions to redress this issue. After four months since the writing of TI Pakistan’s letter, the citizens of district Osta Muhammad informed TI Pakistan that the condition of this government Hospital was far much better than it was four months ago. The absenteeism of doctors had ended; doctors were now visiting the patients in the hospital regularly. Availability of medicines had also improved.
The Ministry of Health Balochistan through a recent press release has banned the private practices of doctors in the day time and has given instructions to the district administration for its effective implementation. It was also stated that the Assistant Commissioners will check the validity and other pre-requisites of private clinics.
In a nutshell, this story highlights the fact that though citizens have fundamental rights whereby they are entitled to essential services by the government, these are not always delivered to citizens for some reason or another. In these situations, people need to come together in order to voice their grievances to get noticed and get the desired result.